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Need stress relief? Try the four A's
Expand your stress management tool kit by mastering these four strategies for coping with stress: avoid, alter, accept and adapt.
By Mayo Clinic staff
When we feel the effects of stress weighing us down, it's like lugging a backpack that's becoming heavier by the minute. Too much stress can make life a difficult journey. When your stress level exceeds your ability to cope, you need to restore the balance by reducing the stressors or increasing your ability to cope, or both. Try using one of the four A's: avoid, alter, accept or adapt.
Changing the level of your stressors
Attempt to adjust the sources of stress in your life by avoiding or altering them.
Avoid
A lot of needless stress can simply be avoided. Plan ahead, rearrange your surroundings and reap the benefits of a lighter load.

  • Take control of your surroundings. Is the traffic insane? Leave early for work, or take the longer, less traveled route. Hate waiting in line at the corporate cafeteria? Pack your lunch and eat at your desk.
  • Avoid people who bother you. If you have a co-worker who causes your jaw to tense, put physical distance between the two of you. Sit far away at meetings or walk around his or her cubicle, even if it requires some weaving.
  • Learn to say no. You have a lot of responsibilities and demands on your time. At a certain point, you cross the line between being charitable and being foolish. Turn down the neighborhood sports league. Pass on coaching T-ball. Those around you will appreciate more time with a relaxed you. And you'll have time to enjoy them, too.
  • Ditch part of your list. Label your to-do list with A's, B's and C's, according to importance. If it's a hectic day, scratch the C's from your list.

Just remember: A certain amount of avoidance is healthy, but some problems can't be overlooked. For those situations, try another technique.
Alter
One of the most helpful things you can do during times of stress is to take inventory, then attempt to change your situation for the better.

  • Respectfully ask others to change their behavior. And be willing to do the same. Small problems often create larger ones if they aren't resolved. If you're tired of being the butt of your wife's jokes at parties, ask her to leave you out of the comedy routine. In return, be willing to enjoy her other jokes and thank her for humoring you.
  • Communicate your feelings openly. Remember to use "I" statements, as in, "I feel frustrated by shorter deadlines and a heavier workload. Is there something we can do to balance things out?"
  • Manage your time better. Organize your day so that like tasks are lumped together — group your phone calls, car errands and computer-related tasks. The reward of increased efficiency will be extra time.
  • State limits in advance. Be proactive. Instead of stewing over a colleague's nonstop chatter, politely start the conversation with, "I've got only five minutes to cover this."

Increasing your ability to cope
For those cases in which the source of your stress can't be avoided or altered, try to adjust your ability to tolerate it.
Accept
Sometimes we have no choice but to accept things the way they are. For those times try to:

  • Talk with someone. You may not be able to change a frustrating situation, but that doesn't mean your feelings aren't legitimate. Phone a friend or schedule a coffee break. You will feel better after talking it out.
  • Forgive. It takes energy to be angry. Forgiving may take practice, but by doing so, you will free yourself from burning more negative energy. Why stew in your anger when you could shrug and move on?
  • Practice positive self-talk. It's easy to lose objectivity when you're stressed. One negative thought can lead to another, and soon you've created a mental avalanche. Be positive. Instead of thinking, "I am horrible with money and will never be able to control my finances," try this: "I made a mistake with my money, but I am resilient. I'll get through it."
  • Learn from your mistakes. There is value in recognizing a "teachable moment." You can't change the fact that procrastination hurt your performance, but you can register the regret to make sure you allot more time in the future.

Adapt
The perception that you can't cope is actually one of the greatest stressors. That's why adapting — which often involves changing your standards or expectations — can be most helpful in dealing with stress.

  • Adjust your standards. Do you really need to vacuum and dust twice a week? Would macaroni and cheese be an unthinkable substitute for homemade lasagna? Redefine success and perfection, and you may operate with a little less guilt and frustration.
  • Practice thought-stopping. Stop gloomy thoughts immediately. Refuse to replay a stressful situation as negative, and it may cease to be negative.
  • Reframe the issue. Try looking at your situation from a new reference point. Instead of feeling frustrated that you're home with a sick child, look at it as an opportunity to bond, relax and finish a load of laundry.
  • Adopt a mantra. Create a saying such as, "I can handle this," and mentally repeat it in tough situations.
  • Create an assets column. Imagine all of the things that bring you joy in life — vacation, children, pets. Then call on that list when you're stressed. It will put things into perspective and serve as a reminder of life's joys.
  • Look at the big picture. Ask yourself, "Will this matter in a year? In five years?" The answer is often no. Realizing this makes a stressful situation seem less overwhelming.

Choosing the right technique
Stressors good and bad are a part of every life. Practice applying these techniques to balance your stress equation. With practice, that once-hefty backpack will become your private bag of tricks. Soon, you'll be able to pull out just the tool that will keep you hiking through life at a steady clip.
Stress relievers: Top 10 picks to tame stress
Stress getting to you? Try physical activity, yoga, listening to music or other top stress relievers to help restore peace and calm to your life.
By Mayo Clinic staff
Is stress making you angry, frustrated and irritable? Stress relievers can help restore calm and serenity to your chaotic life. You don't have to invest a lot of time or thought into stress relievers. When your stress is getting out of control and you need quick stress relief, just try one of these top 10 stress relievers.
If one stress reliever doesn't work, try another one. And if you have trouble remembering which stress relievers to try or which ones work for you, jot down notes or print a list and keep it with you. With these top 10 stress relievers, you can tame your stre

Top 10 stress relievers

1. Get active
Virtually any form of exercise and physical activity can act as a stress reliever. Even if you're not an athlete or you're out of shape, exercise is still a good stress reliever. Physical activity pumps up your feel-good endorphins and refocuses your mind on your body's movements, improving your mood and helping the day's irritations fade away. Consider walking, jogging, gardening, house cleaning, biking, swimming, weightlifting or anything else that gets you active.
2. Meditate
During meditation, you focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing stress. Meditation instills a sense of calm, peace and balance that benefits both your emotional well-being and your overall health. Guided meditation, guided imagery, visualization and other forms of meditation can be practiced anywhere at any time, whether you're out for a walk, riding the bus to work or waiting at the doctor's office.
3. Laugh
A good sense of humor can't cure all ailments, but it can help you feel better, even if you have to force a fake laugh through your grumpiness. When you start to laugh, it lightens your mental load and actually causes positive physical changes in your body. Laughter fires up and then cools down your stress response and increases your heart rate and blood pressure, producing a good, relaxed feeling. So read some jokes, tell some jokes, watch a comedy or hang out with your funny friends.
4. Connect
When you're stressed and irritable, your instinct may be to wrap yourself in a cocoon. Instead, reach out to family and friends and make social connections. Social contact is a good stress reliever because it can distract you, provide support, help you weather life's up and downs, and make you feel good by doing good. So take a coffee break with a friend, email a relative, volunteer for a charitable group, or visit your place of worship.